Covert abuse is easy to miss. Some people are undeniably spacey, but when it comes to covertly abusive people, obliviousness is rarely an authentic trait. Forgetfulness is another convenient disguise that covert abusers employ.
You can see how even good advice can be misconstrued and misapplied to unhealthy relationships where the abuse is extremely subtle. Sadly, covert abuse can also occur under the guise of helpfulness.
Instead, you end up feeling needy, helpless and generally bad about yourself, yet at the same time you continue to view your partner in an untainted positive light. It just feels good.
Flattery is particularly dangerous when the praise affirms how you long to see yourself. Often flattery evolves over time in unhealthy relationships, and what your SO once praised you for that really meant something—for example, your sharp intellect—is replaced with something derogatory or base, like your sexual performance.
Example: You would be really successful working for a small mom-and-pop. If someone is concerned about your safety, it must mean they really care about you, right?
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When it comes to covert abuse, protectiveness is simply a pretense for control, jealousy, and manipulation. It goes beyond physical protectiveness, too; sly people can play on your emotions with other gestures that superficially prioritize your wellbeing, for example claiming to protect you from stress by never sharing the details of their busy workday with you.
The irony is that your covertly abusive partner is the person from whom you need the most protection! Of course not. The presence of malicious intent—specifically the intent to harm you—is what separates authentic traits from manipulative behavior.
In covertly abusive relationships, an unhealthy partner can appear like your soulmate at first, but over time the cracks will begin to show. We know that a lot of relationship maltreatment actually unfolds as non-physical abuse.
If you recognize even the slightest of covert abuse in your relationship, take it seriously and seek help. Our workshops start life-changing conversations. Use our powerful films and discussion guides to transform relationships in your community.
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